South Africa replaced England at the top of the world test rankings on Monday after defeating the home side by 51 runs at Lord's to win their three-test series 2-0.
England were set a record 346 for victory but were dismissed for 294 after some plucky counter-attacking by Matt Prior who made 73 and youngster Jonny Bairstow who backed up his first innings 95 with 53.
Jonathan Trott also chipped in with 63 and for a time it looked like England could pull off a miracle but ultimately the target was too high.
The end of the match and the series was sealed when last man Steven Finn was caught by second slip Jacques Kallis off Vernon Philander, who finished with two wickets in two balls for figures of five for 30.
The defeat meant England surrendered their position at the top of the world rankings after holding the title for a year after displacing India.